Directed by Jules Dassin 1955
Rififi is a definitive example of the classic film noir gangster film, by American-born writer/director Jules Dassin. Fortunately for the development of Dassins Gallic film sensibilities, he was forced to flee from America during the anti-communist hysteria of the fifties. His move to France assured him a sumptuously generic blend of the American hard-boiled gangster flick with the more nouvelle vague French cool.
Rififi is also remembered as the ultimate heist film, centering on a jewel robbery orchestrated by Tony (Jean Servais) a bitter, down-at-heel version of Bogart who has just been released from jail. His woman has left him for an opposing gang member who runs nightclubs and small-scale rackets, leaving Tony with a reckless ambition to get ahead and get out of Paris. He hires a sophisticated safe cracker from Italy and meticulously prepares for the heist with his close friends Jo and Mario.
Rififi is famous for its climactic robbery scene, which unfolds over half an hour with no dialogue or musical score. It is tense and detailed, stylishly exploiting our criminal desires to know exactly how a heist could be pulled off. Every little noise could expose their con and so the audience sits, bound and silent, holding their collective breath until the excruciating screech of metal on metal is unleashed as they cut through the safe to secure millions of dollars worth of jewels.
The tension remains heightened from this point until the closing scene, adding weight to the adage that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. The personal lives of the gangsters are neatly sewn in to the classic three-act structure, to provide opportunities for kidnap, ransom, betrayal, loyalty and brutality. The third act is gripping and highly paced as they attempt to escape with the loot. Like all great heist plots, one small detail brings them down, reinforcing the general moral of the noir genre, crime does not pay, but it so nearly could have!
Impeccably directed with suave natural performances by the cast and inventively shot on many locations around Paris, this low-budget noir film is a blueprint to many that followed in its wake. Jules Dassin passed from this noble sphere only last week.